India puts hold on GM crop

By Clare Boston

Amid scientific concerns, the Indian Government decided today to delay the approval a genetically modified (GM) food crop.  The crop, an aubergine, known as Bt brinjal, contains a toxic protein which will kill insect pests.  Supporters of the vegetable argue that using this GM product will increase crop yields and reduce the need for expensive pesticides.  As the population is rising more rapidly than increases in agricultural output can maintain and food prices have risen rapidly in the last year, Rhys Blakely writes in The Times that India will need a second ‘green revolution’ in order to stop millions of people falling further into poverty.  However, critics of the crop assert that whilst the toxin will break down in the human gut or during cooking, the long term effects of toxicity build up or mutations have not been investigated fully, rendering the crop potentially dangerous.

Paradoxically, whilst this GM debate continues, the production and consumption of organic food has increased significantly over the last decade.  In a recent article in Area, Martin Franz and Markus Hassler examine the integration of indigenous organic pepper farmers in Kerala, India, into the global organic food market.  A large proportion of farmers in India already farm organically and are increasingly becoming certified as organic, allowing their products to be distributed globally. These authors track the movement of organic pepper products into the German food market. Their research suggests that consumers will not only pay a higher price for the product because it is organic, but also because of the “cultural and social embeddedness of production”.  However, it seems likely that the West’s steadily increasing appetite for organic and ‘cultural’ food products is doing little to help the problems of large scale food production currently faced by India.

Read Rhys Blakely’s report in The Times Online about India’s GM debate

Read Jairam Ramesh’s report in The Times Online about the Indian Government’s decision

Read Franz and Hassler (2010). The value of commodity biographies: integrating tribal farmers in India into a global agro-food network. Area 42: 25-34.

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